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French court backs ban on comedy show deemed anti-Semitic

PARIS (Reuters) - A French court upheld a ban on a show scheduled in the central city of Tours for Friday by a comedian accused of insulting the memory of Holocaust victims, the second performance in a nationwide tour to be banned.

France's highest administrative court rejected an appeal by lawyers for comedian Dieudonne M'Bala M'Bala, which came after the opening show in the western city of Nantes was prohibited by a last-minute court ruling on Thursday.

Lawyer Sanjay Mirabeau criticized the decision and said the comedian may try to seek a compromise to get around the ban, notably by changing its name or pledging to remove offensive sketch material.

"We're reaching the point of absurdity when we need to appeal to the Council of State, France's most prestigious judicial institution, to rule on what is funny or not," said Mirabeau following his hearing.

In addition to Nantes, Tours and seven other cities which have banned the show on a planned 28-city tour, authorities are seeking to stop Dieudonne performing the show at a Paris theatre, La Main d'Or, a sort of headquarters for him.

A court in the city of Orleans near Paris, where Dieudonne is due to perform on Saturday, will rule early in the day on whether to uphold a ban proposed by local authorities.

Dieudonne, 46, has been repeatedly fined for "hate speech" and local authorities in several towns across France have barred his shows on the grounds of risk to public order.

His lawyer, Jacques Verdier, has argued that a ban on his client performing would breach his freedom of speech.

The appeals court's decision is a victory for Interior Minister Manuel Valls and President Francois Hollande, who had called for local authorities to take a hard line in determining whether or not to ban the shows.

Originally active with anti-racist left-wing groups, Dieudonne began openly criticizing Jews and Israel in 2002 and ran in the European elections two years later with a pro-Palestinian party.

Critics say the comic's trademark straight-arm gesture is a Nazi salute in reverse. Dieudonne counters that it is anti-Zionist and anti-establishment, but not anti-Semitic.

(Reporting by Mourad Guichard; Writing by Brian Love; editing by Mark John and Ralph Boulton)

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